Lately some friends have asked – “Wait, you’re in Korea? When are you coming back to America?” Our future plans has been ambiguous. We’ve gone back and forth on the decision a few times. Let’s start with our original plan.
Minah and I have wanted to move out to Western MA for a little while now. My parents are in Suffield, CT, just over the border. When we found out that Minah was pregnant, we decided to leave Boston (and my full-time job), head over to Korea for a couple of months to have our Korean wedding, go for a little honeymoon in Bali, and then return with (hopefully!) a job for me in Western MA for Sept 2017. We knew healthcare might be complex, but we were looking into it.
We dug deep, we asked around, I called all over the place. There are options for the poor and disabled, and there are good options for those who choose to work at steady full-time jobs. But for those in between, or for those with unconventional lifestyles (nomads! expats! freelancers!), there are no good options. The message is – your worth is not based on your humanity, but on your obedient behavior in wage/salary society. Without a full-time job, you’re expected to BUY insurance, for prices that approached a third of my monthly salary. The fallacy here is two-fold: insurance should be neither a decision nor a consumer decision. But that’s another long discussion. Even assuming I found a full-time job for Sept 1st, most places make you wait 90 days until you’re eligible for coverage. Our baby’s due date is approx 60 days into that window.
The digging and research and asking around, as much of a slog as it’s been, would have been fine if not for the constant and persistent vagueness and uncertainty, from all sides. Laws varying from state to state, Minah’s status as a sponsored permanent resident, Trump undermining health care and possibly repealing/replacing – but also, at the micro-level of actual doctor visits, truly unbelievable moments. Here’s one – a few months ago, Minah and I were at her gynecologist’s office in Boston, asking whether a fetal health check test would be covered by our insurance (which I had through my full-time job). We had the doctor in the room with us, and the insurance company literally on the phone in the same room, and still, neither could give us a straight answer. “Probably, but we can’t tell you for sure,” was where they landed. I was speechless. Who else could I ask? What was the next step? The doctor shrugged. We didn’t get the procedure.
We want to start our family and continue our careers in the States. That is our plan. But can we afford to have our baby in the States? “We can’t tell for sure, but probably not” – that’s where we’ve landed.
This is where health care exists right now in America – in a place of uncertainty, fear, vagueness, and constant pressure. People who do have full-time jobs are making decisions to stay with those jobs, and those decisions often have nothing to do with salary or location or the actual work of the job but with a sense of medical entrapment. A decision to switch jobs sometimes comes with a poring-over of fine print and an auto repair shop type feeling of “I think I understand what I’m agreeing to, but I might be missing something small that will completely screw me over”. And people who aren’t currently working full time (like Minah and I) are making decisions to stay away from America to avoid that entrapment.
I try not to make political posts on Facebook, on my blog, or elsewhere. I feel like if I get started, I’d probably post every day, and I’d quickly get upset and overwhelmed. But for us this issue goes further than politics – it’s personal.
If the snarling jungle that is healthcare in America has felt abstract to you, it shouldn’t anymore. You know a family whose life trajectory has veered sharply a few times this year, to try to avoid getting tangled in its many vines and falling into its many spear-lined pits. It is set up to take advantage of those who don’t have the time, education, or frankly the degree in legal studies that it takes these days to navigate its terrain. We’ve been lucky in that we HAVE had the time to research our options. And we’ve come to a conclusion: we do not feel safe giving birth in America.
I’ve heard somewhere a “civilized” society being defined as a society which cares for the security, education, and health of its citizens. I feel lucky to be able to live in a society – South Korea – which is right now far more civilized than the United States. The birth of our baby will be close to free, and in fact, the government will pay us around $450 as a little “thanks for increasing the birth rate” stipend. Minah and I are planning to return to America in early 2018, after the high stakes dice of delivering a baby have already been cast. We’re confident that even given the most difficult circumstance, the Korean health care system will deal with the matter safely, quickly, and cost-effectively.
Many American citizens don’t have the option of a second country when considering medical coverage. For individual procedures, there’s medical tourism, but coverage involves living in that country for an extended period of time. Insurance is not the only reason we’re here, of course – Minah will have her mom and her friends and family next to her for those beautiful first few moments and first few months of our child’s life. Other pregnant Americans with insurance issues don’t have those luxuries in civilized countries.
And I wish I could say that as Americans, we’re moving the system toward something more civilized. We’re frankly not. And I’m not sure where to end this thought, honestly, so I’ll say this – living in Boston for the past year has shown me that most Bostonians are living in a “frog in a pot of slowly boiling water” type situation. It’s bad, but since from your perspective it’s only a notch worse than it was last year, you’ve convinced yourself you can just adapt, despite the fact that your skin is cooking. What you might not know is that American expats in Korea and elsewhere talk a lot about how bad it is. They think it’s insane, because they are frogs sitting outside the pot. I am one of those few frogs that can jump in and out. And that’s what this long rant is, I guess, about. I just can’t imagine my wife and I jumping back in right now.
It’s felt good to write all this down. Thanks for reading. And in case you think that having a baby for me is all about brooding and moaning about health care costs – no way! I’ve been watching with amazement as Minah’s belly grows – it really does look bigger every day. Sometimes I put my head against it and talk to our son (something that, ironically, only Minah can’t do!). Sometimes I rest my hand there for a long time, waiting for those little fluttery movements which feel like tiny fingers poking at you from the inside of a balloon. I’ve found my brain thinking about our son unprompted – he just pops into idle thoughts. I have a feeling this will happen for the rest of my life. And wherever we are – in America, in Korea, or elsewhere, I feel so happy and lucky to have the support of family, friends, and especially my and Minah’s parents as we grow. Thank you!!